Candidates for the Needham Park and Recreation Commission shared their views on a variety of issues at the League of Women Voters Candidates’ Night on Monday, April 2—from the future of to the addition of new turf fields, use of capped land near the and the possible development of .
Current Park and Recreation Commission member Tom Jacob is seeking re-election to a three-year term, vying for one of two seats along with Dave DiCicco and Matt Toolan. Park and Rec. Commissioner Brian Nadler has decided not to run for re-election.
The forum on Monday began with opening statements from each of the three candidates. Here’s a quick look at what they had to say:
Tom Jacob, incumbent
Jacob has served on the Park and Recreation Commission for three years, including as chairman. He also serves as a Town Meeting member and is on the Council of Economic Advisers. He has lived in Needham for almost 25 years and has volunteered as a youth sports coach for 15 years, serving on the Little League board for seven years.
“I bring a broad understanding of the recreation and open space needs in the town,” Jacob said. “I understand the need to provide low-cost activities and programs for all children in town."
Jacob mentioned the commission’s many accomplishments over the past three years, including improving the town trail system, seeing new fields installed at and parks, improving the tennis courts at , running a “robust schedule” of programs and working closely with the Department of Public Works to improve the care and maintenance of parks and fields. In addition, he said the commission was reviewing the feasibility of building a rail trail from Needham to Medfield and was “finally very close” to improving the parking lot at DeFazio.
Upcoming challenges he noted included bringing other fields up to the standards of DeFazio and Memorial fields, upgrading the fieldhouse at and developing a plan for Rosemary Pool.
Toolan has lived in Needham for about eight years and said he has a “great passion” for the outdoors and physical activity, as well as for the town. He has coached soccer and baseball in Needham and coached lacrosse and soccer in towns he previously lived in. He is also a member of The Trustees of Reservations, an environmental group that works to preserve open space in Massachusetts.
If elected, Toolan said he would work to build on the department's existing resources.
“I think we can do a better job of sharing with everyone what Park and Rec. is doing. There are so many great programs, but you have to go searching for them,” Toolan said.
He is especially interested in looking at how best to utilize the Rosemary Pool property to serve all residents and also felt it was important to bring other fields in town up to the level of Memorial and DeFazio fields.
DiCicco is a 22-year resident of Needham and has served on the Trustees of Memorial Field for seven years. He has also coached and served on the boards of numerous youth sports, has served as a member of the Touchdown Club, Fields Committee, Field of Dreams Committee and Needham Sports Council and is currently a member of the .
“If elected, I’d like to see fields rehabilitated for today’s use with drainage that will allow use during the rainy season,” DiCicco said. “I’d work to find more funding to better maintain and preserve our fields, playgrounds and trails—avoiding costly repair in the future—and I would use my experience to help the Park and Recreation Commission find solutions to its current agenda regarding Rosemary Pool, its shrinking program space and the community center concept.”
Following their opening statements, candidates responded to a series of questions posed by the League of Women Voters and members of the audience. Here is a recap of the candidates’ comments on a few of the issues:
CHALLENGES AHEAD: What is the major challenge you see facing Park and Recreation, and how do you propose to meet it?
Matt Toolan: I really think if we can do more to promote what Park and Rec. is doing to make the people of Needham understand that then revenues can follow, which can lead to more funding for our fields, which can lead to more studies on what we should do with our pool and joint community centers.
Dave DiCicco: I believe field maintenance funding is a real issue in the town. Over the years we’ve heard town officials talk about the bubble coming through the schools, and that same bubble is happening on the sports field, yet the funding to maintain those fields hasn’t really increased over the past few years. I would try to work with the CPA and the current legislation that’s sitting at the Statehouse to get the funding we need to preserve our fields.
Tom Jacob: I think the No. 1 challenge we have ahead of us is what to do with Rosemary Pool. The pool is coming up on its 40th anniversary and, while it’s a wonderful resource in town, it’s unclear as to how we’re going to move forward with it. One of my goals should I be re-elected would be to get that feasibility study started.
A smaller but a more personal issue for me is what I call trash in town. It’s not just a Park and Recreation issue but that’s where I think it can begin. The town has an issue of not picking up its own trash, and it’s not just on the sports fields but everywhere.
COMMUNITY CENTER: What are the main impediments to having a Needham all-ages community center, and how would you work to overcome them?
Matt Toolan: I believe the biggest impediment is we have a broad constituency and broad opinions from a diverse group of people and we need to figure out what’s best for our town. I think where I would come into that discussion would be to help build that consensus, to start with the residents of Needham and understanding what do folks want, what do we want as a town, what’s going to make the most sense, what do the different groups have to bring to the table as part of that discussion, and try to align the priorities as best we can.
Dave DiCicco: I think first it’s something that we could probably use, but because there’s so much on our capital plan already I don’t think it’s something that will be a reality. I believe that there is a need because our Park and Recreation programming is currently getting squeezed. It doesn’t have a building of its own.
If it were to happen, I think that Rosemary would be the great area for it because it would put it in an area that’s close to Memorial Field, that’s close to the and that’s close to [Needham] Center. It’s worth exploring, but we have to find out what the cost is.
Tom Jacob: I would start with redefining what a community center is. If you start with the concept that it has to be a central building, the impediment is the ability to fund it. If you take a different approach to it and look at it as a campus approach, we could identify a triangle, if you will, between Memorial Park, Rosemary Pool and the new senior center—that they will provide programs at all three locations. Granted, it’s not a one-stop shop, but it might be a more realistic and likely solution for Needham.
FUTURE OF ROSEMARY POOL: What are your thoughts and plans to replace Rosemary Pool in the future?
Tom Jacob: I think the feasibility study will give us a good direction, whether we have to replace the pool, build a new pool, or what the town can afford. If it’s a large capital issue, we might have a problem there given all the other capital needs. It’s one of my goals if I’m re-elected to make sure that the feasibility study that we’ve had funding for for about six or seven years actually gets completed in the next year to two.
Matt Toolan: I agree that we need to study the issue, but I think I’d take a step back and say let’s not just study Rosemary, but what’s the town’s pool need? Rosemary is a wonderful facility from a standpoint of outdoor recreation during the summer months. Currently our schools go to other locations outside of the town for their competitive swimming. As well, if you want to do swim lessons a lot of the time you’re using other pools.
I’d like the feasibility study to be expanded to look at the overall pool use in town. The YMCA is also struggling with what are they going to do with their pool. If we’ve got a private source or a semi-private source that would be willing to work with us in the town, why can’t we work together to make it a reality?
Dave DiCicco: Rosemary Pool inevitably is going to have to be replaced at some point. It’s a very unique pool in a very unique place. I think the cost of doing such a project is going to outweigh what the uses are. I think we need to do a study first and find out what we need for pool use before we embark on something that could be as expensive as that.
DOG PARK: Should there be a space or opportunity for dog owners to exercise their animals off leash?
Matt Toolan: I think we need to take a look at it. It’s certainly something that is a growing priority in our town, but we have to balance it with the other priorities. How does it align with what we’ve been talking about with community centers, or is there a site in the area where it can be done? If it can be done and everyone’s happy, that’s great; let’s try to do that. I do know that having walked around town parks when there were unleashed dogs it’s a little intimidating when you have young children, so I think it actually makes sense as long as it fits in with our priorities.
Tom Jacob: I am in favor off an off-leash dog park. There have been some informal discussions in town and the nike site [near ] has been the site that’s been talked about. I’m a little concerned about the cost to the town, so my thought is a design very much like the would be ideal—meaning that the town would be able to finance land for such an off-leash dog park, whether it be nike or elsewhere, but the users of that park would be the ones responsible for maintaining and upkeep.
Dave DiCicco: It’s definitely time to start looking into it. The only problem that I would have with a dog park is if it costs the taxpayers or non-dog-owners money and if it took space away from our kids. I think [using the nike site] is a great idea because it wouldn’t interfere with any other fields. I guess so long as the funding for it was through dog licenses so that they self-sustain and so that Park and Rec. maintenance crews don’t have to spend their time and money to take care of it, I’d be very much in favor of it.
The entire LWV forum can be viewed on The Needham Channel's municipal channel. Upcoming airings, according to the schedule posted online, include:
- Thursday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m.
- Friday, April 6 at 2 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
- Satuday, April 7 at 4:30 p.m.
- Sunday, April 8 at 12:30 p.m.
- Monday, April 9 at 6:30 a.m.